A day after Prime Minister Keith Rowley urged citizens to open their homes and hearts to Dominicans in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, Secretary General of the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha Satnarayan Maharaj yesterday insisted doors to the homes of locals should remain closed to their distressed Caribbean neighbours.
Maharaj took serious issue with Rowley’s appeal to assist Dominicans, saying Trinidad and Tobago already has too many refugees taking up residence in the country and availing themselves of resources. “Our schools need assistance to repair and renovate. They are being closed down on a daily basis. We need assistance to keep them open. Yet we are reaching out to Dominica when we have what I would consider refugees in our own country,” an upset Maharaj told Newsday.
The leader of the country’s largest Hindu organisation said TT is still recovering from the effect of Tropical Storm Brett which triggered extensive flooding in various parts of the country, in June. “The State has not assisted them at all to recover,” Maharaj claimed. He lamented that refugees were entering the country in droves without any form of proper surveillance.
“We have thousands of refugees from Venezuela coming across the Bocas,” he said. “We have people coming back...criminals they have sent back from America. Yet we are talking about receiving refugees from another country when we don’t have sufficient houses here for our own people.”
During Thursday’s post-Cabinet news conference, Rowley announced government’s decision to waive immigration regulations for a period of six months to allow Dominicans to stay in TT while their country rebuilds after Maria touched down as a Category Five storm, on Tuesday, leaving hundreds homeless and in dire need of food, clothing, water and basic medical supplies. Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit was also left homeless.
Maharaj yesterday said the Maha Sabha was mobilising food and other items to send to Dominica. “Right now (yesterday), there is a truck out there. We are sending two truck loads of articles which we have collected. There is somebody in Port of Spain that is sending out these to the islands.
“So that we should be extending financial and other support to them rather than bringing in more refugees here because we have about 60,000 refugees already in Trinidad. Many of our citizens are refugees in their own country. That is my take on it.” Maharaj repeated that many schools in the country were “falling down.”
“None of the schools have been repaired. They have unfinished schools and we cannot take in anymore. We can’t take in what we have locally far less to take in foreign students. “But my punchline is that there are people living like refugees in their own country here.”